Palmetto High School junior Melissa Vazquez has spent much of her high school career volunteering at Perrine Elementary’s after school care program where she helps the children with their homework. “If it’s writing or it’s math, I help them out,” she says. “I help the teacher as well. I take them out to play. We do a lot of stuff with them.”
She goes Perrine twice a week, when her homework load allows. “I love the kids,” Vazquez says. “They are always playful and they look up to you. It’s really nice.”
She works primarily with children in kindergarten to second grade. Although she loves to help the kids, she’s also aware that many of them try to manipulate her into doing their work for them. She’ll tell them, “No, you do it yourself and I’ll guide you on how to do it.”
The children she works with on their writing are especially lucky. Vazquez recently won a $100 savings bond, a check for $200 and two plaques for an essay she wrote on the topic “Does America Still Have Heroes” for Voice of America.
“I actually talked about the military and the Navy,” she says. “I don’t think they are recognized as often as they should be.” The essay won first place at the school level and second place in the district. “One of my favorite things to do is writing,” she says. “I plan to write a book in the future, a fantasy, like J.K. Rowling. I started reading Harry Potter when I was in third grade and I couldn’t put it down.”
In fact, Vazquez started writing a book a couple of years ago and is always writing something. “I love to write and I love to read,” she says. “I read everything; everything that looks interesting to me that I can get my hands on, I’ll read.”
She’s multi-talented. Along with being a terrific writer, she also dances and plays the viola. She used to perform in the middle school orchestra and continued to take lessons until recently, but she plays the instrument only for fun now. In college, she hopes to double major – taking pre-med and writing. Her goal is to become a pediatrician. Vazquez attended open houses at the University of Miami and Florida International University. UM is her top choice, but she’s keeping her options open.
In order to be ready to take pre-med courses she’s packing in as much science as she can. She challenges herself by taking Advanced Placement level classes and keeps her grades up in the demanding courses. She is a member of the English Honor Society, the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. Through SHS, she tutors students in Spanish classes.
“Every month we’re assigned to teacher and we tutor the students in Spanish,” she says. “If there are no students to be tutored, then we help the teacher with the class work.” Vazquez also volunteers for BSG Smart Families.
“Every year at Metrozoo, one biology teacher puts on BSG Smart Families,” she says. “They inform parents and kids how to be street smart. They make it fun for the kids, so at the same time they’re learning, they’re having fun.”